June 19, 2013
Russia Expects More From Putin
Posted on Mar 14, 2012
By Ivo Mijnssen
The government must secure the support of these urban and educated strata, as they are the keystones to any modernization project for Russia. Putin, and even more Medvedev, staked a lot of their legitimacy on the government’s ability to turn Russia into a competitive force in global markets, rather than simply a provider of natural resources. The financial crash of Russia’s stock markets in 2009 and the gaping hole that any drop in global oil prices leaves in the state budget have made it clear that Russia’s current economic system is not viable in the long run. Under Medvedev, even pro-government think tanks such as the Institute of Contemporary Development (INSOR) and the Center for Strategic Research (CSR) published highly critical studies that demand urgent reform. Putin is no longer in a position to ignore, much less silence, these influential voices.
It is equally clear that modernization is impossible without at least a gradual liberalization of the political system. In recent months, the government has taken some steps in this direction. In response to the protests after the Duma elections, Medvedev submitted a bill that would reintroduce the popular election of regional governors. Their appointment by the president was repeatedly criticized as undemocratic. Moreover, Medvedev ordered a review on March 5 of imprisoned oil tycoon and Putin opposition funder Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s trial, and Putin announced that the bureaucratic obstacles to founding new political parties would be lowered considerably. Putin has raised the possibility of oligarchs paying a one-time tax on the fortunes they made during the 1990s, an attempt to placate popular anger.
At the same time, the Kremlin is attempting to split the opposition by promoting a new liberal party. Prokhorov announced that he will start his own party. Putin received the news favorably, even stating that he was considering offering Prokhorov a post in his new government.
It is too early to see whether these reforms will actually be implemented and whether they will take the wind out of the opposition’s sails. Much will depend on its ability to continue to mobilize and thus keep up the political pressure on Putin. The first demonstration after the election drew considerably fewer participants than earlier protests. Another demonstration on March 10 showed a similar trend and revealed tensions among the leaders of different opposition groups. Some, like the Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, demand more radical means such as unsanctioned occupations of public squares, while others are more willing to compromise. Putin has repeatedly shown himself to be a skillful political tactician, and he may well succeed in dividing the opposition. This, however, would result less in renewed support for the government and more in frustration and political passivity.
Whether Putin’s recipes for the past 12 years will work for another 12 is highly doubtful. Can the aging ruler find new ones?
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